The best cultural immersion experience is to discover a destination through its cuisine. Greece is a mecca for foodies. Rich in aromas, flavors and influences — it’s been named one of the world’s healthiest cuisines. Did you know that there is more to Greek street food than souvlaki and gyros? To help you delve deeper into the fascinating Greek culinary culture we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to Greek Street Food.
Greek Street Food: A Culinary Journey through the centuries
The richness of the Greek cuisine is to be savored at every bite. It takes you on a sensational journey back in time to the land of ancient Greek gods and heroes who once created the delicious recipes which we rejoice today. An early version of a cookbook was apparently written by Archestratus in 350 B.C. Traditional Greek cooking has been shaped by the country’s rich and tumultuous past, the numerous victories and influences over the centuries resulted in a vibrant fusion of ingredients and tastes.
The Greek diet incorporates traces of both the East and West. Foods like yogurt, nuts, rice and sesame seeds were initially introduced by the Persians and later when Rome invaded Greece, new items like sauces and pasta were being introduced to the culinary scene. With the invasion of the Arabs, spices began to dominate the kitchens — many of these, such as cinnamon, cumin and cloves are still widely used in the preparation of dishes until this day. The culinary heritage of the Ottoman Empire added variety, freshness and refinement to the Greek cuisine, as a result some of the Greek and Turkish dishes are almost identical both in preparation and taste.
Greek Street Food Today
Souvlaki is Greece’s quintessential street food dish and extremely popular around the world, you will however be surprised that Greek cuisine is a melting pot of cultures serving some of the best street food you’ll ever devor. Here’s a list of the foods not to miss on your next trip to Greece.
Souvlaki and gyros
Souvlaki is an all time classic — juicy, tasteful and best enjoyed hot, topped with a generous layer of tzatziki (yogurt, garlic dip). The souvlaki consists of small pieces of meat either pork or chicken grilled on a skewer which are served wrapped in a warm pita bread, garnished with tomatoes, onion and fries, dressed with tzatziki. You can of course choose which garnishes to include and there is a selection of various sauces. Tzatziki is however typically Greek. Souvlaki or souvlakia in plural are also often served on their own, with slices of bread or grilled pita, sprinkled with fresh lemon for extra flavor.
There is another popular dish called gyros which is made of large pieces of meat cooked on a rotating skewer. The meat is then sliced using an electric knife, placed on a warm pita bread and garnished exactly the same way as the souvlaki. The gyros meat served in Greece is traditionally pork or chicken, some shops serve beef doner kebab.
The simple sweet bites are one of the highlights of the Greek cuisine. Commonly referred to as the Greek donuts these dough balls are served freshly fried, soaked in honey, sprinkled with cinnamon and walnuts. The modern version of Loukoumades can be enjoyed topped with generous layers of chocolate Nutella and ice-cream on the side. You are free to be as creative as you like with your choice of toppings.
In terms of the most popular morning Greek snack comes the koulouri, a round shaped bread sprinkled with sesame seeds. You are bound to pass numerous small vendors selling koulouri for breakfast stacked in their hand baskets. This staple Greek snack, simple in taste and rich in energy originated in Thessaloniki where it was first made by refugees who immigrated from Asia Minor. Today it is considered a traditional Greek product, with a history which dates back to the Byzantine Empire.
This sweet pastry made of semolina custard baked between layers of phyllo, garnished with sugar icing and cinnamon is a heavenly breakfast item best enjoyed hot. The recipe originated in the city of Serres where it was incorporated into the Greek cuisine by the immigrants coming from Constantinople. Bougatsa is also made with savory fillings which include mizithra cheese or minced meat.
The famous Greek cheese pie is a must-try. This traditional cheese pie is usually made with layers of crispy phyllo dough and a filling of feta and other cheeses. It is enjoyed at all times of day, as a main dish, starter and snack. You will find this savoury delight in all bakeries of the country. It comes in various shapes and sizes, but most commonly it is baked on large trays and then cut into squares.
This savoury pie is similar to tiropita, the main difference is that the filling comprises of spinach, spring onions and feta cheese. Another variation of the spinach pie is without feta cheese. It is a perfect snack that is guaranteed to brighten up your day. A fascinating dish we recommend you try.
Roasted chestnuts is a Greek winter delicacy and a much-loved snack. You will come across numerous chestnut-sellers roasting fresh chestnuts on their little portable charcoal braziers which they serve in paper cones.
Chestnut season traditionally starts in October, filling the crisp autumn air with the sweet fragrance of the roasting chestnuts.
Another popular Greek snack which you can buy from the small street vendors is an assortment of dried fruits and nuts. The most common dried fruits are apricots, figs and raisins. They also sell nuts and sunflower seeds in small paper packets.
New entries: Falafel and beyond
A continuous food evolution and the desire for something new has expanded the Greek culinary scene to new horizons with an introduction of creative food offerings.
Among the classical Greek street food favorites, visitors can also enjoy the much-loved new trend of falafel — a delightful alternative to the souvlaki, the modern hot dog served with a rich selection of toppings as well as the American favourite — pancakes, just to name a few.
One of the most fascinating ways to discover Greece is through its cuisine. To taste, to explore and to learn from the locals. We hope that you find our ultimate guide to Greek Street Food useful. Have you tried any of these street food dishes?